AFC Asian Cup 2019: What can India aim for?
India is in with a realistic chance of entering the knock-out stages of the 2019 Asian Cup after discovering themselves in a relatively easier group. It could be the last time one may see Sunil Chhetri at the Asian Cup as he would be 38 years if India qualifies for the 2023 Asian Cup.
After some solid defensive performances against China and Oman and barring a goal-keeping error against Jordan, the Blue Tigers would be on a high when they take on Thailand in their opening match.
India failed to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup after settling in the bottom place at the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal. In the 2011 Asian Cup, they lost all their group stage matches with massive defeats against Australia, Bahrain, and South Korea. Sunil Chhetri scored two goals while Gouramangi Singh scored the other of India’s three goals in the tournament.
India’s best-ever finish at the Asian Cup came during their tournament debut in 1964, Israel when they ended up in second place. They have won two of their ten matches in Asian Cup history to record a 20% win percentage along with ten defeats and a draw.
The Blue Tigers have competed in 12 International games this year recording six victories, four defeats, and two drawn games. The Tigers did suffer close defeats in all their four games, and also drew against formidable opponents like Oman and China. Pitted in a relatively comfortable group, this could represent India’s best chance to get into the knock-outs if the Indian strikers find their radar on target.
Captain Fantastic Sunil Chhetri is hoping against hope to get India past the group stages. With 65 International goals to his name, he remains a force to reckon with in the competition with his ability to raise his game at crucial junctures. India would rely on his goals if they were to progress beyond the group stages.
The Mizo wonder Jeje Lalpekhlua, is certain to prove his critics wrong as he would love breaking through his barren run at the Indian Super League with Chennaiyin. Voted as the Fans player of the month in December during the 2017 ISL season, we could witness a lot more acrobatics from Jeje on-field if he scores.
Sunday, 06 January 2019: India (97) vs Thailand (118) - Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi at 19:00 IST.
Thursday, 10 January 2019: India (97) vs United Arab Emirates (79) - Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi at 21:30 IST.
Monday, 14 January 2019: India (97) vs Bahrain (113) - Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah at 21:30 IST.
Though Thailand enjoy a superior head-to-head record against India, lots have changed in the Indian football scenario since the teams played against each other in 2010. India will have to control the game against the pacy Thais if they stand any chance of toppling them over. Emirates would remain a tricky opponent at home, and India needs to lift their game drawing inspiration from their 2-2 against Emirates in 2011. India needs to record their maiden victory against the West Asian team to progress to the knock-outs.
With India’s defensive capability, they would venture into the last sixteen where they would meet either Uzbekistan if they finish second or Australia if they end up third in the Group stages.
In all likeliness, India can venture into the quarter-finals if our strikers come good and the defence hold on tight to keep the opposition scoring to a minimum.
Average Age: 25 years.
International Caps: 430.
International Goals: 104.
Head Coach: Stephen Constantine (England)
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Bengaluru), Vishal Kaith (Pune City), Amrinder Singh (Mumbai City).
Defenders: Salam Ranjan Singh (East Bengal), Subhasish Bose (Mumbai City), Sarthak Golui (Pune City), Sandesh Jhingan (Kerala Blasters), Pritam Kotal (Delhi Dynamos), Narayan Das (Delhi Dynamos), Anas Edathodika (Kerala Blasters).
Midfielders: Germanpreet Singh (Chennaiyin), Anirudh Thapa (Chennaiyin), Vinit Rai (Delhi Dynamos), Ashique Kuruniyan (Pune City), Pronay Halder (ATK), Udanta Singh (Bengaluru), Rowllin Borges (NorthEast United), Jackichand Singh (Goa), Halicharan Narzary (Kerala Blasters).
Strikers: Sumeet Passi (Jamshedpur), Balwant Singh (ATK), Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru), Jeje Lalpekhlua (Chennaiyin).